USC-VHH, Nurses Feel Good About Contract Deal

Photo courtesy USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Those celebrating a new contract between nurses and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital include (front row, from left) Michael Soghumians and Edgar Fortin. Back: CEO Keith Hobbs, Prem Pihlmann, Leasa Sugimura, Rose Young, Terrena Sellers-Saidi, Lorna Kelly, Anil Buyruk, Theresa Murphy and COO Kenny Pawlek.
Photo courtesy USC Verdugo Hills Hospital
Those celebrating a new contract between nurses and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital include (front row, from left) Michael Soghumians and Edgar Fortin. Back: CEO Keith Hobbs, Prem Pihlmann, Leasa Sugimura, Rose Young, Terrena Sellers-Saidi, Lorna Kelly, Anil Buyruk, Theresa Murphy and COO Kenny Pawlek.

Buoyed by a surge in positive staff feedback and a new nurses contract, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital CEO Keith Hobbs last week shared a bold goal.
“The No. 1 reason people move to La Cañada Flintridge is for the schools, right?” Hobbs asked. “I would like to change the paradigm so that, over the period of the next couple years, the second reason why they look to move to La Cañada is their community hospital.”
That only happens, Hobbs said, with the help of nurses.
In contrast to a contentious, drawn-out negotiation two years ago, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and the California Nurses Association needed only about two months — “record time,” Hobbs called it — to come to terms on the current contract, which will take them through 2020. The deal was announced by the CNA on Dec. 29.
The contract applies to 162 current nurses and will cover 35 expected hires, Hobbs said.
“Compared to last time around, the hospital definitely was more receptive to working with the nurses on their demands,” said Dinorah Williams, a CNA labor representative. “There was definitely a commitment from the administration. They were willing to listen to the nurses, and the nurses voiced their concerns very adamantly.”
“The bargaining contract was very important,” Hobbs said. “It’s a piece in the success of the future of the hospital because our nursing staff is extremely valuable to us. It should really benefit us that we can really just focus on the growth strategy instead of worrying about, ‘Do we have a contract in place?’”
In addition to salary gains, the contract presents nurses with improved retirement and health insurance benefits. It also includes stepped-up health and safety provisions, increased rest periods and, in an especially well-received development, free USC tuition for all registered nurses and their dependents.
“That was a really important, thinking-out-of-the-box, outside-of-wages improvement that will help recruit and retain nurses,” Williams said.
Hobbs said that benefit will be available to all of the hospital’s employees, aligning with policies at USC’s Keck and Norris hospitals.
“In the middle of bargaining, we got the green light on that,” Hobbs said. “Some [employees] were in tears. It was a really good feel-good moment.”
Hobbs also was happy to report survey results indicating that members of his hospital’s staff are feeling good about their place of employment.
According to the most recent Pulse Survey, which is administered every two months by Keck Medicine of USC, those working at USC-VHH now are more likely to recommend their job than their counterparts at USC’s other hospitals.
In response to the prompt, “I recommend this organization as a good place to work”; 46% of USC-VHH’s employees responded that they “strongly agreed,” and 44.4% said they agreed, a slightly higher percentage than at the other USC hospitals. That, Hobbs said, was a 13% improvement from the previous quarter, and a significant improvement from a year earlier, when the hospital was last in the category.
“We’re really doing everything that we can do to create an environment where employees want to work,” said Hobbs, who began his tenure at USC-VHH last January.
That’s a stark contrast to the climate at the hospital in spring 2015, when nurses voted overwhelmingly in support of a strike, citing unsafe conditions. There was an exodus of unhappy nurses.
“When I was interviewing for this role, the first thing that popped up was the negotiations in 2015, with nurses standing outside of the administrative suite, wanting to talk to the COO and CEO because of dissatisfaction about where bargaining was,” Hobbs said. “So [this time] we took a photo with a group of nurses and our administrative team and we had smiles and laughter and we said, ‘This is the new image.’”
There are yet other improvements happening at the hospital: The surgical unit that was closed when Hobbs arrived partially has reopened and the expanding urology department now has the capability to stream video of surgeries around the world. A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is expected to open in July and there is a $250,000 “refresh” happening in the emergency department, Hobbs said.
“This year should be a really strong year for Verdugo Hills,” Hobbs said. “And a big piece was getting the nursing contract done.”

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